Benson Henderson defeats Gilbert Melendez via split decision; Josh Thomson finishes Nathan Diaz

Photo Credit: UFC

Photo Credit: UFC

For many, the big question on Saturday night was whether or not Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez deserved to be ranked as one of the great lightweights in the sport. Despite coming away with a loss on his column, I think most of us can safely agree that Melendez deserves to be considered a top-tier lightweight.

For the course of five rounds, Melendez and UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson fought one of the closest and most competitive UFC title fights of all time. Very little was there that separated the two in terms of skill. Henderson used his kicks and elbows to try to get the best of Melendez. On the other hand, Melendez used well timed punches to damage and counter the UFC lightweight kingpin. The rounds were awfully close and I don’t think one can scream robbery either way – even if they are confident about who they thought won the fight.

In the end – much like his affairs with Frankie Edgar and the his first tilt with Donald Cerrone – Benson Henderson got the benefit of the doubt and got his hand raised at the end. The ruling was a win via split decision. There is no shame in what Gilbert Melendez did on Saturday night. He proved that he really is as great as some of us thought all along.

Unfortunately for Melendez, he won’t be getting a rematch against Henderson in 2013. The next title shot will go to the winner of a May 25th lightweight fight between Gray Maynard vs TJ Grant. If I had a wish, I would have Melendez take on the winner of Jim Miller vs Pat Healy (April 27th) in his next fight. For those that remember, Melendez was scheduled to defend his crown in Strikeforce against Healy before pulling out due to injury.

In earlier lightweight action, Josh Thomson proved his own merit in a TKO win against Nathan Diaz. Thomson used his footwork and kickboxing to neutralize Diaz for most of the first round. He was able to hurt Diaz early on with a headkick. In the second frame, the headkick did the trick and was enough to start the beginning of the end for Diaz. A few follow up punches on the ground and it was over at the 3:44 mark of the 2nd round.

Josh Thomson wasn’t ranked in the top ten and most would agree that he probably didn’t deserve to be – at the time. In retrospect, looking back, he was underrated. He only lost to Gilbert Melendez and Tatsuya Kawajiri in the last five years. Injuries and winning against tough but lesser known fighters like JZ Cavalcante and Pat Healy did little to make him seem like a top fifteen lightweight. Now nobody can deny that Thomson is a legitimate top ten lightweight. It puts Thomson’s fights against Melendez into a much sharper perspective now. Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller (two UFC lightweights ranked in the top ten) couldn’t do anything with Diaz and we saw what Thomson did in there.

I hope this evening serves as a reminder that while UFC does have the deepest talent pool in MMA, that great fighters can exist outside the company.

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